Category Archives: Math Inquiries

Maximum Product

This 2007 four-star problem from Colin Hughes at Maths Challenge is definitely a bit challenging.

For any positive integer, k, let Sk = {x1, x2, … , xn} be the set of [non-negative] real numbers for which x1 + x2 + … + xn = k and P = x1 x2 … xn is maximised. For example, when k = 10, the set {2, 3, 5} would give P = 30 and the set {2.2, 2.4, 2.5, 2.9} would give P = 38.25. In fact, S10 = {2.5, 2.5, 2.5, 2.5}, for which P = 39.0625.

Prove that P is maximised when all the elements of S are equal in value and rational.”

I took a different approach from Maths Challenge, but for me, it did not rely on remembering a somewhat obscure formula. (I don’t remember formulas well at my age—only procedures, processes, or proofs, which is ironic, since at a younger age it was just the opposite.) It is also clear from the Maths Challenge solution that the numbers were assumed to be non-negative.

See Maximum Product.

Magic Pythagorean Circle

This statement showed up recently at Futility Closet and I found it to be another one of those magical results that seemed so surprising. I don’t recall ever seeing this before.

“The radius of a circle inscribed in a 3-4-5 triangle is 1.
(In fact, the inradius of any Pythagorean triangle is an integer.)”

(A Pythagorean triangle is a right triangle whose sides form a Pythagorean triple.) Futility Closet left these remarkable statements unproven, so naturally I felt I had to provide a proof.

See Magic Pythagorean Circle

Alberti’s Perspective Construction

I was reading yet another book on the Scientific Revolution when I came across a discussion of the mathematical significance of the invention of perspective for painting in the 15th century Italian Renaissance. The main player in the saga was Leon Battista Alberti (1404 – 1472) and his tome De Pictura (On Painting) (1435-6), which contained the first mathematical presentation of perspective. Even though mathematics was advertised, it was not at the level of trigonometry I used in my post “The Perspective Map”, but rather entailed simple Euclidean plane geometry. So the discussion was largely historical rather than mathematical. Nevertheless, I became curious to learn how much Alberti was able to discover about perspective without a lot of math. This essay is the result.

See Alberti’s Perspective Construction

(Update 7/29/2019)  I got a response! Continue reading

Infinite Product Problem

This is a challenging problem from Mathematical Quickies (1967).

“Evaluate the infinite product:

I came up with a motivated solution using some standard techniques from calculus. Mathematical Quickies had a solution that did not employ calculus, but one which I felt used unmotivated tricks. See the Infinite Product Problem.

Conical Bottle Problem

I was astonished that this problem was suitable for 8th graders. First of all the formula for the volume of a cone is one of the least-remembered of formulas, and I certainly never remember it. So my only viable approach was calculus, which is probably not a suitable solution for an 8th grader.

Presh Talwalkar: “This was sent to me as a competition problem for 8th graders, so it would be a challenge problem for students aged 12 to 13. When a conical bottle rests on its flat base, the water in the bottle is 8 cm from its vertex. When the same conical bottle is turned upside down, the water level is 2 cm from its base. What is the height of the bottle? (Note “conical” refers to a right circular cone as is common usage.) I at first thought this problem was impossible. But it actually can be solved. Give it a try and then watch the video for a solution.”

See the Conical Bottle Problem.

Straight and Narrow Problem

The following interesting behavior was found at the Futility Closet website:

“A pleasing fact from David Wells’ Archimedes Mathematics Education Newsletter: Draw two parallel lines. Fix a point A on one line and move a second point B along the other line. If an equilateral triangle is constructed with these two points as two of its vertices, then as the second point moves, the third vertex C of the triangle will trace out a straight line. Thanks to reader Matthew Scroggs for the tip and the GIF.”

This is rather amazing and cries out for a proof. It also raises the question of how anyone noticed this behavior in the first place. I proved the result with calculus, but I wonder if there is a slicker way that makes it more obvious. See the Straight and Narrow Problem.

(Update 3/25/2019) Continue reading

Bugles, Trumpets, and Beltrami

This essay began as an effort to prove Tanya Khovanova’s statement in her article “The Annoyance of Hyperbolic Surfaces” that her crocheted hyperbolic surface had constant (negative) curvature. I discussed Khovanova’s article in my previous essay “Exponential Yarn”. What I thought would be a fairly straight-forward exercise turned into a more concerted effort as I concluded that her crocheted surface did not have constant curvature. However, I found additional references that supported her statement, so I was becoming quite confused. I looked at other, similar surfaces to try to understand the whole curvature situation. This involved a lot of tedious computations (with my usual plethora of mistakes) that proved most challenging. But then I realized where I had gone astray. To cover my ignorance I claimed my error stemmed from a subtle misunderstanding. Herewith is a presentation of what I found. See Bugles, Trumpets, and Beltrami.

(Update 4/6/2019) Continue reading

Lorentz Transformation

Over the years one of the subjects I return to periodically to study is Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, both the Special and General theories. Interest in the Special Theory focused on the derivation of the Lorentz transformations (or contractions). Why did objects appear with different lengths and clocks run at different speeds for observers moving relative to one another? Early on (late 60s) I came across a great explanation in the 1923 book by C. P. Steinmetz. He derived it from two general assumptions of special relativity: (1) that all motion is relative, the motion of the railway train relative to the track being the same as the motion of the track relative to the train, and (2) that the laws of nature, and thus the velocity of light, are the same everywhere. I did not follow his derivation completely, so I produced my own, which I will give here. See the Lorentz Transformation.